Old man and Child
While browsing blog entries tagged with “Hinduism” read a post “Why Should I Care About Future Me?“. This is a good question about reincarnation. The author, Mike says:
… I have heard that most karmic systems also hold that the average person cannot know of past lives, and most certainly cannot know what actions from the past have caused present circumstances, nor when actions of the present will have their effects. Is my present situation a step “up” in the cosmic ladder, or “down?” Will stealing this watch or feeding this beggar help my soul tomorrow or 10,000 lifetimes from now? I cannot know. And if I cannot know in the present, then I know that my atman will not be able to know in the future. Thus, when I am reborn, I cannot consciously suffer the results of my wicked actions, which means I really do not suffer at all. If I am reborn into miserable circumstances, I can be mad at my past wickedness, but only in a general sense and not with any real contrition because I have no idea what I did to deserve misery.
This is a very reasonable argument. The only thing that I would quibble with is the assertion that we cannot know whether stealing a watch or feeding a beggar will help or hinder a soul. If we took reincarnation in total isolation this would be true, but within Hinduism we have clear guidelines on living dharma. The yama (constraint) of asteya tells us that stealing will be bad for our soul, and the niyama (observance) of dāna tells us that giving of alms will be beneficial.
Before answering this question directly I will look at how we handle similar issues in a single life. As a child we may work hard, study and learn. This may well be very beneficial to us in later life, but a child learning to read would have little comprehension of the issues that the adult deals with, or their thoughts and emotions. Similarly an adult may only have a dim memory of the days spent learning the alphabet, and the longing to leave the class and play outside. In many ways the adult is a different person to the child. Despite this we can all see how the learning as a child has helped the adult, and generally believe that the child should care about the future self.
Similarly we may save for our old age, even if we don’t know how healthy we will be, whether we will remember our earlier life well or suffer mental decline, or even if we will live that long. I think most people would save in order to be cared for even if they knew that they would lose their memory.
Of course just because we normally do care about our future self in this life does not mean that it should extend to caring about other lives, it merely shows that caring would be consistent. I can see two reasons why we should care though. Continue reading →